How to Hack a Photographer’s Style

Most of us have got a favourite photographer. Someone who inspires, excites, amazes and surprises us with every new photograph. We are part of a grateful audience to see their work and sit in wonder at how they achieve these images.

But wouldn’t it be nice if, in some way, we could be just like them? This is a full guide on how to recreate a photographer’s style.

Hack a Photographer's Style

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Before we begin, can we just start off by saying that we aren’t trying to rip off, infringe or oversimplify another photographer’s work.

We know how hard it is being a professional photographer, so we are the last people to cheat hard working people out of their living.

Instead, what we are going to explore today is how to break down a photograph and emulate it using our own camera and lighting. If you have a favourite photographer and would love to aspire to their style, then you’ll need these tips to help you out.

Breaking Down a Photograph

Whether it’s fashion or photography, copying someone’s style is seen as flattering (providing it’s not ripping them off). For a new photographer these tips will also help you ‘read’ an image and understand how it was taken if you want to use elements in your own work.

Every photographer has a favourite photo and we’ll all have a different reason what we like about it. It may be the subject, background, lighting, colours, angle, expression, location.

To make it easier to understand I am going to take a 3 of our own favourite photographs to breakdown. I’ll discuss as many elements as we can so you can understand how to deconstruct your chosen favourite.

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1. Kurt Cobain by Michael Linssen

Let’s look at this underground turned mainstream poster boy of grunge pop, Kurt Cobain. Linssen’s portrait of him is part of series that he took during a recording session. The image is candid and captures Cobain in an isolated moment combining his musical genius as well as his nonchalant approach to professionalism.

Given the age and grainy detail of the picture straight away we know it’s shot on film. The black and white finish looks crisp and well defined which suggests it was shot on black and white film and not converted into colour.

Along the edges of Cobain’s leather jacket, you can see specular highlights of a light off-screen. There must also be a light shining from the left-hand side to illuminate the face, backed up by the shadows around his jaw and neck. It suggests that both lights are high up and probably just ambient lighting in the studio.

So already we know the Linssen likes to shoot candid portraits using black and white film filled with ambient light. That’s a lot learnt already. But there’s more…

Can you see the wire dangling across the frame on the right-hand side? It may seem distracting, but it tells us 2 things:

1. Linssen shot this portrait instinctively and didn’t have time to get into the ‘perfect’ position. Therefore, he doesn’t direct / pose his subjects.

2. He chose not to edit it out afterwards meaning he obviously likes it. Therefore, it’s part of his style.

How to Hack a Photographer's Style by

Image: Copyright Michael Linssen

2. The Way Home by Tom Hunter

Tom Hunter’s uncompromising portrait is another favourite of ours for his seemingly incidental photographs.

Hunter’s image entitled ‘The Way Home’ straight away has a number of characteristics that builds up an impression that we can hack. Let’s look at them point-by-point.

The image is close to a 5:4 crop ratio which is rare in digital photography and more closely associated with medium/large format cameras which, providing it’s not been cropped afterwards, suggests he works on film.

The composition within the crop doesn’t conform to the rules of third approach. Though the subject is positioned in the lower third there are no striking elements on the power points. It creates the idea that composition is not vitally important to his work.

The horizon isn’t straight. Purposely overlooking constructs like this reaffirms that Hunter doesn’t want it to be technically sound, therefore content must be more important to him.

The subject is laid lifelessly in the shallow water at the bottom of the frame overlooked by huge brambles and bushes suggesting this is a moment he has stumbled on, a gruesome snapshot of sorts. Her position in the frame is deliberate, if she looks insignificant or accidentally in the picture (like a quickly taken picture) then maybe that’s how he feels.

Is he telling us that he feels insignificant and hidden under the brambles? Is the subject a representation of him? The connection between a photograph and the photographer should never be underestimated.

It leads us to suggest what the story is behind the photograph. Though every photograph will tell a different tale you can see Hunter leans towards darker themes, industrial settings, sad situations creating heartfelt reactions.

How to Hack a Photographer's Style by

Image: Copyright Tom Hunter

3. El Born by David Rodriguez

El Born is a residential district of Barcelona, a city known for its colour and energy which is perfectly represented by Rodriguez’s photograph.

The shot is vibrant and rich in detail, using an HDR or stacking type effect to bring out the textures. HDR editing should only really be used to exploit different textures in the right situation such as this.

This approach could also mimic the various stories ongoing in the photo. We can see two youths with a skateboard in the foreground contrasting against the older couple walking away in the background.

In terms of composition, the narrow alleyway forces our eyes towards the distance causing us to see different stories on our way through. Rodriguez seems to like using camera composition and editing to tell a story rather than working with a single subject.

Some may see this shot, with all the different colours and textures, as distracting and messy without a central character. But in truth, urban photography such as this, is about living in the moment and not waiting for something truly unique.

The small interactions, juxtaposition of lives and various characters make the shot more genuine and not staged. Rodriguez frames the energy of the story through his editing which draws us in further to inspect the finer details.

How to Hack a Photographer's Style by

Image: Copyright David Rodriguez

How We Recreated our Favourite Photograph

It’s all good hacking down these styles, but we wanted to see how we could emulate the findings into our own photography. For that we need to re-create one of our favourites, lets choose Tom Hunter.

Since we haven’t got a medium format camera to hand, we’re just going to use our own equipment and edited it to capture the correct atmosphere.

How to Take Photos Like Your Favourite Photographer: Summary

Fingers crossed all the analysis has been useful and will help your future projects. Hacking one picture create a fast impression of a photographer’s style but to get a truer reflection then look at a body of their work instead.

A photographer with a good sense of direction and style will be easy to hack. You’ll see repetitive themes, constant lighting techniques uses of certain colours etc., this will help you in your emulation.

If you’ve ever embarked on a style hack like this then please let us know how you got on and your results too.

If you’re an iPhotography member, then upload it to the gallery so we can check it out. If you aren’t then tag us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


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